As a teen I was quite the romantic. One Valentine's Day, I filled my boyfriend's car with homemade hearts. There were so many that he called me later and said he needed to report a Valentine explosion.

I suppose I'm still a romantic. Sweet books and movies that end happily ever after make me happy. I love it when my husband brings me flowers. I crave candlelight, mood music, sunsets, romantic conversations, and fancy chocolates.

But this Valentine's Day, a young friend of mine has me thinking about something quite different than lacy hearts. He recently backed away from a relationship with a young woman who many thought an excellent "catch." When his mother asked what happened with this budding romance he told her, "I didn't bring out the best in her like Dad does in you."

Wow.

I'm awed that one so young would have such a handle on what's important in relationship. It's not about red roses and Valentine candy (though those can be nice), but about bringing out the best in the one you love.

Impressed by this young man's comment, I began to wonder what his dad had done for his mom that brought out the best in her. So I asked. She thought about it and said, "He loves me just as I am. I've never in my life felt so completely accepted as I do by him."

She then talked about their early days of marriage and how she and her husband had a lot of conflict, trying to change each other. Over time, as they surrendered more to the Holy Spirit, they began to appreciate each other's strengths and believe in one another. As her husband embraced who she was and loved her unconditionally, she began to grow into the woman they both needed her to be.

This concept of bringing out the best has been playing in my mind ever since my young friend first made the comment. I want what his parents have. I asked my husband, Jerry, when I bring out the best in him. "When you're seeking God and trusting Him with everything, you're more able to support me," he said. "Even when life gets difficult and you have to work through your disappointment, I know you are on my side. It's your heart for God that brings out the best in me."

I didn't have to ask Jerry what brings out the worst. Impatience. Fretting. Badgering him. Being uptight. Demanding. When I'm in a tizzy instead of quiet before the Lord, I say things that discourage my husband and I see the results.

As Jerry and I talked about this concept, he mentioned how important it is not just for relationship between spouses, but also for relationship with our children. So again I went looking for answers.

First, I asked my teenage daughter. "When you are stressed or become controlling, worried about the things I need to accomplish, it brings out the worst," she said. "But when you praise me and say you believe in me, it brings out the best."

My teenage son surprised me with his answer. I thought he would tell me that when I was critical it brought out the worst, but he said sometimes pointing out his faults helped him change for the better. It mostly depended on my approach. As I considered his answer, I realized that when I confront him in anger or with a critical spirit, he is wounded and defensive. But when I step back and wait for the right time and approach him with love and tenderness, he's more apt to listen to my concerns and take them to heart.

My son also said, "When you congratulate me when I do well, it helps me be the best I can be." It seems so simple to say "good job," but it must be more important to him than I knew.

When it comes to the younger children, it is easy for me to see the patterns of best and worst. At their tender age, they are easily encouraged or discouraged by my actions. When I'm impatient, demanding, or frustrated with them, I see the results in their countenance, and often in their behavior. But when I believe in them and tell them how much I love and appreciate them, complimenting their efforts, I find they are more joyful. They are quicker to work hard on their schoolwork or pitch in with chores without being asked. The simple choice of spending time with them also brings out the best in them.